By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
While studying in the United States, Dominique Alonga fell in love with classic children’s books, such as those written by Dr. Seuss, and knew right away she wanted to take the joy of reading to children in her native Rwanda.
Alonga — a 2010 graduate of Presentation Academy — is the founder of the non-profit organization “Imagine We Rwanda” based in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.
The organization is Alonga’s brainchild, dreamt up during her daily trips to the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library during her days at Presentation Academy.
The goal of the organization is to get books into the hands of children across Rwanda and instill in them a love of reading, Alonga hopes this will enrich their imaginations and unleash their creativity.
“I loved the library and I had this idea in my heart,” she said during a phone interview recently. “I just didn’t know how I’d go about doing it,” she said.
Alonga — who recently graduated from college — laughed as she confessed her love of Dr. Seuss’ books and the fact that she still has her Louisville Free Public Library card, though she lives more than 7,000 miles away in East Africa.
Alonga launched “Imagine We Rwanda” — named for the John Lennon song “Imagine” — in January with the help of Presentation. After hearing from Alonga that she was having difficulties getting books, Susanne Firestone, Presentation’s art department chair, organized a book drive. The school collected 1,280 children’s books and shipped them to Rwanda.
As soon as the books arrived, Alonga and a few volunteers set out to distribute them to schools in Kigali. And some of the books were used to open a community library, which for the moment is nothing more than a small rented space with a few throw rugs and chairs, Alonga said.
Her dream of seeing kids taking an interest in books and reading has already taken flight. She said that 30 children showed up at the community library within two days of opening.
Alonga said she was always troubled by the fact leisurely reading was rarely encouraged in her country. Schools that received book donations “were expecting text books. Most of our books (in Rwanda) are history books,” she said.
The schools that received books have agreed to start a reading club with at least 20 members. Alonga plans to visit these schools to ensure the books are being used.
Alonga’s love for reading Dr. Seuss and other English-language books began in the United States.
Born in The Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in Rwanda, she came to Louisville in 2007 seeking medical care. She enrolled in high school when the treatment lasted longer than she and her family anticipated.
Her first language is French, and she spoke very little English when she enrolled at Presentation.
“When I arrived in the United States, books became the first tool to learning English,” said Alonga. “It was a way for me to survive, but I grew to love reading in English.”
Dr. Debbie Hall, one of Alonga’s teachers at Presentation Academy, said she’s not surprised by what Alonga has accomplished.
“Dominique viewed education as a gift,” said Hall. “It doesn’t surprise me that she has taken on the challenge of creating a non-profit to get books into the hands of young children. It is her way of passing that gift on to others.”
Hall recalled how Alonga spent hours each day, struggling to understand the material in her honors U.S. history class.
“By the end of the year she was one of my most accomplished students,” said Hall.
Alonga seems to have put that same dedication into running the organization, which she now does full-time with the help of a few volunteers.
To learn more about “Imagine We Rwanda,” visit imaginewerw.org.